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Alesis ADAT – Affordable Digital Multitrack (part 11)


Wow and flutter

There is no such thing as a perfectly flat surface, a perfectly round shaft
or a perfectly spherical ball bearing. It’s also impossible to align two
cylinders so they are perfectly concentric. The result of this is that the tape
machine that runs at an absolutely steady speed will never exist. In the analogue
world this matters because tape speed has a direct bearing on pitch. Slow variations
in speed cause wow, faster ones cause flutter. A digital machine will not run
at a perfectly constant speed either, but since the data can be read into a
buffer memory and then be clocked out with the accuracy of a crystal oscillator,
it doesn’t matter at all if the mechanics are slightly wobbly (within specification
of course).

Timecode problems

Timecode is to recording engineers what spots are to teenagers, and sometimes
we forget that unlike spots, timecode does indeed have a few benefits. But when
your synchroniser won’t synchronise, or your sequencer drops out of record
at the wrong moment then you will be snarling and cursing and wondering why
you hadn’t taken up a career as an interior decorator. If you have ever
look at raw timecode on an oscilloscope, straight from the tape machine, then
you won’t be at all surprised that you get the occasional troublesome moment.
In fact if you look at a steady 1kHz sine wave replayed from tape you will be
amazed that recordings of music sound anything like the real thing. Even on
a good tape recorder the sine wave will be bobbing up and down like a dinghy
crossing the wake of the Isle of Wight ferry – and make that the QE2 when the
head gets worn. But if your timecode is recorded onto digital tape, as described
in the main text, then it will be absolutely rock solid and almost as clean
as when it was fresh out of the generator. The low cost timecode readers usually
found associated with MIDI sequencers will particularly appreciate this.

Edge tracks

What did your mother tell you when you were small? – Never record important
parts on the edge tracks! Of course we all know this, but the problem is that
you don’t always know how a piece of music is going to develop and sooner
or later, when all the tracks are full, the producer is bound to say, “Let’s
ditch the castanets (which are on track 1) and put down this important vocal
counterpoint I’ve just thought of.” Or words to that effect. If you
use an analogue multitrack I’ll ask you the question, “How good are
your edge tracks?” Try recording stereo music on tracks 1 and 2 and play
back on headphones. If your heads are at all worn you will hear image shift
and drop outs on track 1. Since ADAT is a rotary head recorder it can’t
be said to have an edge track in the normal sense so you can be sure that each
track will have identical performance within infinitesimally small margins.

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